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Dep't of Transportation v. Office of Open Records

November 1, 2010

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, PETITIONER
v.
OFFICE OF OPEN RECORDS, RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Cohn Jubelirer

Argued: September 14, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge.

OPINION

The Department of Transportation (Department) appeals from the Final Determination of the Office of Open Records (OOR) insofar as it grants, in part, the appeal of John L. Aris (Requester) from the Department's decision denying Requester's request (the Request) under the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL)*fn1 for traffic studies and sight distance measurements involving the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Shiffler Avenue (the Intersection) in Loyalsock Township, Pennsylvania. The Department argues that the records are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Section 3754 of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. § 3754. The Department also argues that these documents are records relating to non-criminal investigations and are, therefore, exempt from disclosure under Section 708(b)(17) of the RTKL, 65 P.S. § 67.708(b)(17).

On August 4, 2009, Requester submitted the Request seeking:

1. All accident reports for [the Intersection] from 1997 to 2009.

2. All documents reflecting any instruction or warning given to a property owner/tenant at the northeast corner of [the Intersection] concerning the trees or foliage at or near the corner.

3. All documents reflecting removal or trimming of foliage/trees along the north side of [the Intersection] from 1997-2007.

4. All traffic and engineering studies done regarding [the Intersection].

5. All documents reflecting complaints made regarding [the Intersection].

6. All documents pertaining to sight distance or corner sight distance measurements at [the Intersection].

(Request, R.R. at 6a.) On September 18, 2009, the Department responded to the Request, granting it in part and denying it in part. (Letter from the Department's Agency Open Records Officer to Requester (September 18, 2009) (Request Response), R.R. at 7a-8a.) The Department denied the Request for accident reports on the grounds that Section 3751 of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. § 3751, provides that police departments, alone, are authorized to disseminate accident reports; however, the Department did provide a crash history for the Intersection. (Request Response at 2, R.R. at 8a.) The Department denied the Request for traffic and engineering studies on the basis that Section 3754 provides that these studies are not public records. The Department denied the Request for complaints regarding the Intersection on the basis of Section 708(b)(17)(i) of the RTKL, 65 P.S. § 67.708(b)(17)(i), which exempts complaints related to agency non-criminal investigations. Finally, the Department denied the Request for documents relating to sight distances at the Intersection on the basis that "[t]he only records we have that would provide sight distances at [the Intersection] are safety studies" and safety studies are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Section 3754 of the Vehicle Code. (Request Response at 2, R.R. at 8a.) The Department granted the remainder of the Request.

Requester appealed to the OOR, arguing that the Department's interpretation of Sections 3751 and 3754 was inaccurate and that the Department failed to show that complaints about the Intersection were related to non-criminal investigations. The Department sent a response to OOR making arguments similar to those it makes before this Court. (Letter from the Department to the OOR (October 9, 2009) (OOR Response), R.R. at 21a-30a.) As part of the OOR Response, the Department included the affidavit of James P. Tenaglia, P.E., a Senior Civil Engineer Manager with the Department (Affidavit). The Affidavit provides, in relevant part:

3. Each of the records at issue in this appeal are the constituent parts of traffic engineering studies completed pursuant to federal law and in furtherance of the authority vested in the Department, which includes the development of a comprehensive Crash Record System, among other federal requirements.

4. Police accident reports are collected by the Department and used exclusively for investigations related to accident prevention, accident ...


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